It hasn't been 'an easy lap around the track'

Saturday, March 31, 2007

As one state association president put it recently, "2006 was a really tough year to be president, and 2007 isn't going to be any better." Georgie Blackburn, president of the Pennsylvania Association of Medical Suppliers (PAMS), agrees, but at the association's convention April 29-May 1, she plans to spend at least part of the weekend celebrating. PAMS, the oldest HME state association in the country and one of its strongest, with 140 members, turns 35 this year. HME News caught up with Blackburn in late February to discuss the association's past, present and future, as well as how, like the Energizer Bunny, it keeps going and going and going.
HME News: So how will the association commemorate its 35th anniversary?
Georgie Blackburn: There will be different celebrations and keepsakes at the convention but we're trying to keep it--not secretive, but we want people to be pleasantly surprised. We do have a crew trying to find some of the gentlemen who signed the articles of incorporation in 1972, so they can attend the event.
HME: Let's rewind a little bit. Why was PAMS formed?
Blackburn: Taxes. At the time, there was a sales tax for medical equipment, except canes, crutches and hospital beds. A group of guys who knew each other and who were all running their own healthcare businesses felt strongly that medical equipment wasn't a taxable commodity. They wanted to fight it, but there was no avenue to do that. So they called a meeting.
HME: Were they successful in repealing the sales tax for medical equipment?
Blackburn: They were. Within a year, they had put together the organization, people had signed up and their voices were being heard. It was their first fight.
HME: How has the association changed since then?
Blackburn: We've taken a more global approach. When we see that there is a lapse in what a patient needs, we try to form one voice and get that message across clearly. I think that's what associations have become--serving as a voice in what kind of legislation is being enacted, or if it's already enacted, bringing to the table why it may hurt patients and small businesses.
HME: Where do you see the association heading in the future?
Blackburn: Lobbying, education and patients' rights are all going to become more and more important. It'll be interesting to see what impact national competitive bidding has on state associations. Depending on how things fall into place, will we have state associations or regional associations? With competitive bidding, I can see the stronger state associations, just like the stronger providers, rising to the surface.
HME: So we may see some state associations consolidate?
Blackburn: It could happen, as long as the issues continue to become more and more global. A lot of states have different billing systems, for instance, but the associations are still working the same funding issues. HIPAA's driving through generic coding. We're at a point where we can all sit down at a table and talk more effectively about what's happening in each state, and it sounds like we're all going through the same thing.
HME: How does PAMS plan to weather what's likely to be another tough year?
Blackburn: We've taken on the mantra that we love challenges in Pennsylvania. It takes a combination of tenacity and believing in your goals and causes and your ability to effectively educate those who make the rules--that's central to everything. It's like running hurdles at a track meet. It's a combination of your pace, your balance and your ability to leap when needed. It isn't an easy lap around the track.